Two Christians Jailed under Blasphemy Law in Uganda

Muslims upset that they quoted from the Koran.

Joseph Omadi was arrested in Soroti, Uganda on Nov. 21, 2023. (Morning Star News)

Joseph Omadi was arrested in Soroti, Uganda on Nov. 21, 2023. (Morning Star News)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Two evangelists in eastern Uganda will spend Christmas in jail, charged under a blasphemy law after Muslims upset at their street preaching beat them and summoned police, sources said.

On the final day of a three-day evangelistic campaign in the city of Soroti, police on Nov. 21 arrested Joseph Omadi and Isaac Napakol after a Muslim mob beat them, said a participating pastor who managed to escape.

The Christians had preached on the street for 30 minutes when they were surprised to see “a multitude of Muslims,” said Pastor Robert Omodingi.

“We thought that maybe they had come to listen to the word of God, but to our surprise, they just grabbed my colleagues and started beating them, and shortly police came and arrested them,” Pastor Omodingi said.

On Nov. 23 police charged them under Section 122 of Uganda’s penal code for allegedly “wounding the religious feelings” of the Muslim community, and a grade one magistrate court sent them to jail to await trial, he said.

The Muslims were upset that the evangelists were using the Koran in their message. Pastor Omodingi said district leader Sheikh Ramadhan Ibwakit had sent a local imam to warn them to stop using the Koran on the second day of the evangelistic campaign.

He said the district leader later told authorities, “We as Muslims have worked hand in hand to get these kafir [infidels] after warning them to stop using our Koran and other Islamic literature, but they refused. They were quoting the Koran while speaking to our Muslims on the streets of Soroti – this is unacceptable in our faith.”

At a hearing on Wednesday (Dec. 20), Omadi was limping, but it was unclear whether the injury to his left leg was a result of the mob beating on Nov. 21 or whether it was inflicted in custody, sources said.

“We are concerned about the deteriorating physical appearance of our two evangelists, and we are calling for the court to handle the case with justice,” said another pastor on condition of anonymity.

The court has scheduled the next hearing for Jan. 10, he said.

“The two evangelists will continue languishing in the cell for the coming three weeks as the Christian lawyers continue presenting their case,” he said. “When the two evangelists appeared in court yesterday [Dec. 20], they had lost a lot of weight and were in a very sad mood; possibly they may have been subjected to some kind of torture.”

Their condition has prompted the chairman of the churches in Soroti to mobilize members to pray and fast, he said. He criticized the district official for leading police to arrest the evangelists for using the Koran in their preaching.

“We have been seeing Muslims in their open-air crusades using our Bibles,” he said. “Even the Muslims do use the Bible, but the church has never accused them in any court of law in Uganda.”

Section 122, Uganda’s blasphemy law against writing or uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings, has been criticized as constitutionally invalid for contravening freedom of speech and for vagueness that violates the key tenet of legality.

“The determination of whether a crime has been committed under the provision depends on the subjective feelings of the audience to whom any word, sound or gesture may or may not be directed,” attorney Nimrod Muhumuza wrote in a 2019 issue of AfricLaw journal. “In other words, a prospective suspect’s fate depends on the feelings and sensibilities of another individual.”

Vague laws such as Section 122 may trap the innocent by failing to provide fair warning, Muhumuza stated.

“A vague law impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges, juries for resolution on an ad-hoc basis with the attendant danger of arbitrary and discriminatory application,” he wrote. “However, even if the prescription of what constitutes an offense under the provision was precise and clear enough, would it survive interdiction by the right to freedom of expression provided for in the Constitution?”

The Nov. 21 attack and arrests were the latest of many instances of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another. Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country. 

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